Monday, September 17, 2012

So Wrong It's Right - Silence! The Musical

Jeff Hiller, Karl Warden, Jeff Skowron, Stephen Bienskie, and 
Christine Lakin as Clarice. Photos by Michael Lamont

So wrong on so many levels…and so freakin’ funny! That’s Silence! The Musical. This unauthorized parody of "The Silence of the Lambs," which starred Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, latches onto every idiosyncrasy and memorable moment in the film and sends it up in the bluest way possible. It’s no wonder it became an instant cult hit. 

Originally written as a collection of songs for the internet by creators Jon and Al Kaplan, the material caught the attention of Hunter Bell, bookwriter and star of [title of show], who adapted it into a live stage show. It won Best Musical at the 2005 FringeNYC Festival and then went to London where audience members couldn’t get enough of its risqué humor. Last year it opened Off-Broadway where it has continued to play to sold-out crowds ever since. Now Los Angeles gets its own version of the irreverent musical at the Hayworth Theatre, with a Troubie and a Phantom leading the way.

The Troubie is Christine Lakin, who stars as Clarice Starling, (Foster’s role) a young FBI trainee tasked with helping find an elusive psychopath who is skinning his victims. Lakin’s background with the Ovation Award-winning Troubadour Theatre Company aka “The Troubies,” gives her the perfect springboard for the musical’s twisted comedy with its guerrilla improv style. Plus, she’s a ringer for Jodie Foster, wigged and dressed in the character’s trademark brown pantsuit and with Foster’s distinctive speech pattern that draws laughs the minute she opens her mouth. She’s also so serious in the role, even when she’s throwing in legitimate Fosse moves or shooting deadpan looks to the audience, that you can’t help but see the blazing lunacy built into every scene of Silence!
Davis Gaines and Jeff Hiller
The Phantom is Davis Gaines, who played over 2000 performances as the Phantom of the Opera around the country. In Silence!, Gaines devours his dialogue with a biting ferocity that is alternately disturbing and ludicrous. Hearing the sophisticated operatic baritone sing the role of head case Hannibal Lecter (via a stunning spoof of Anthony Hopkins) is something I’m still trying to wrap my own head around. So beautiful is his shaping of the vocal line in his signature song that you’d swear it was meant to be a classical love ballad…until you hear the lyric. 

The song comes with a title I can’t print, and also with an unforgettable dream ballet featuring Karl Warden and Melissa Sandvig as the dancing versions of Dr. Lecter and Clarice. Sandvig is best known as the “Naughty Ballerina” from "So You Think You Can Dance" and when paired with the spectacular Warden, performs one of the most unforgettable pas de deux you’ve ever seen. 

A wicked sense of humor pervades all the details of this seriously skewed musical directed and choreographed by Christopher Gattelli. Look closely and you’ll find nods to some of the roles Gaines has played in the crayon drawings he’s made in this cell; the Phantom’s half mask, shout outs to recent roles in local productions of Man of La Mancha, Spamalot, and other societal comments. The show takes jabs at Yentl, Dreamgirls, Newsies, "she’s so fat" jokes, makes flashback fog by clapping dusty erasers, and has an ever-present chorus of silent lambs that moves about the characters unseen except by the audience. 

Stephen Bienskie
Stephen Bienskie returns to play “Buffalo Bill,” a role he created for the original New York production of Silence! His deranged, sexually-charged performance of the sadistic killer features singing through a string of F-bombs and scenes in which he throws Twinkies to entice his size 14 prey, prances in front of the mirror dressed, and undressed, as a woman, and chases Clarice in the dark with night-vision goggles made out of an old View-Master. Again, so wrong on so many levels, but scandalously funny at the same time. 

The remaining cast members are also bred-in-the-bone comedians and Bell features them all; Jeff Skowron as Dr. Chilton, Kathy Deitch as Buffalo Bill's victim Catherine and her mother, John Kassir as Jack Crawford, LaToya London as Ardelia, and Jeff Hiller as Sgt. Pembry.

Scott Pask’s set design consists of four movable flats that are a collage of sewn clothing pieces somewhat comically enhanced for pre-show. Together with Carl Casella’s creepy sound design of dripping water, whispers, and muffled noises they create an appropriately uneasy sensation. Make sure you pay attention to the detail in David Kaley’s costumes, which carry the humor through at another deeper level of ingenuity. 

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